Archive: Entertaining

Grilled Pizza Party

(Photo courtesy of The Bitten Word) This post originally appeared July 7, 2006, just a few months after A Mighty Appetite was born. To mark the first “official” weekend of the summer grilling season, I’ve updated my grilled pizza prose and spiffed it up with a purty picture on loan from Zach and Clay, the savvy cooks from DC-based blog, The Bitten Word. While your dough rises, have a looksee at the following tips based on my first-hand experiences with pizza a la grill. I’ve also shared the recipe details for my version of dough, which has served me well for the past 9 years. * While a charcoal grill yields more flavor, a gas grill, which offers more temperature control, makes pizza grilling a snap. The reason? Pizza dough needs a mixed temperature setting. The first few minutes, you want things nice and hot to allow for dough...

 

By Kim ODonnel | May 22, 2009; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (3)

Meatless Monday: Party on With the Black-Eyed Peas

A can of beans is classic utilitarian fare; crack it open, pour into a saucepan, heat and eat. It may lack flavor and pizazz, but dinner, for the most practical of souls, is served. Toast dressed to the nines. (Kim O'Donnel) But when those beans are pureed, life suddenly gets very interesting. The most obvious (and ubiquitous) example is hummus, an irresistible puree of chickpeas that works not only as a party dip but as a sandwich spread and lunch-on-the-run. I'm not crazy about mushy white beans from a can, but when pureed and sassed up with olive oil, rosemary, garlic, cayenne and lemon (and when I have it, a roasted red pepper), that lowly can o' mush morphs into a glam party snack or workweek lunch fare that surely will be coveted by your coworkers. After some experimenting last week, I've got a new can to add to...

 

By Kim ODonnel | April 13, 2009; 10:32 AM ET | Comments (2)

Super Fly Fries

While poring through cookbooks for cocktail-nosh inspiration, I got sidetracked -- thank goodness. The culprit: a recipe for panisse, also known as chickpea fries. Yes, you read that right; you can make fries from chickpea flour, and once you do, you may never want fries of the potato variety ever again. They’re THAT good. Common in the south of France, panisse are also known as panelle along the Meditterrean coast of Italy. (Kim O'Donnel) A few years ago, I had the pleasure of my first panisse experience at Kinkead's in D.C., overcome by their deliciousness while pondering how one actually makes fries from chickpea flour. With the help of pastry chef Francois Payard’s gem of a little book, “Bite Size,” now I know: You cook the chickpea flour with liquid until it becomes a paste, which is poured into a pan and allow to set up in the fridge. Within...

 

By Kim ODonnel | April 10, 2009; 08:00 AM ET | Comments (13)

Oscars Night Nibbles

Sunday night’s the big night in Hollywood -- and in living rooms across America. I say, if we’re gonna be glued to the tube all night, we may as well be eating in style. Readers got the conversation started in last week’s chat, sharing their thoughts on how to tie Oscars-viewing snacks to their favorite nominated films. With just 48 hours left ‘til the festivities, let’s chew on more ideas and get this Oscars party started. I have one confession; I’ve only seen one of the five films up for Best Picture -- "Slumdog Millionaire," which also happens to be a shoo-in for best in culinary inspiration! I can hardly resist an excuse to make Indian food, so you can imagine what I’m fixing Sunday night.. But let’s hear from you and what you’re dreaming up. And the nominees are…. "Slumdog Millionaire" The scene: Mumbai, along the western coast of...

 

By Kim ODonnel | February 20, 2009; 07:40 AM ET | Comments (2)

Under-$20 Super Bowl Chowdown, 10 Ways

Here’s the deal: You’ve got 20 bucks to spend on vittles for Sunday’s big game on the big screen. Not a penny more. Whatever you decide to spend on booze, that’s your business. But when it comes to the chow, we’re going to keep it a budget-style affair. After all, who’s not pinching pennies these days? Sure, you can head over to KFC and pick up a 16-piece bucket for $20.99. And I hear Domino’s is offering its “American Legends” pies for $12.99. But honestly, how will your chow-in-a-box taste by the fourth quarter? That’s what I thought. Instead, have a look at what I’ve cooked up – 10 menu ideas with a festive flair, a cozy television hootin-and-hollerin’ vibe --- and with that under-$20 price tag. Of course, if you're feeding 20 people Sunday night, your budget will double or triple, but you get the idea. Your budget-minded suggestions,...

 

By Kim ODonnel | January 30, 2009; 04:00 AM ET | Comments (18)

Deep-Fried Philosophy

When guest blogger Julia Beizer isn't frying up a storm, she's juggling many balls as food and dining producer at washingtonpost.com. Below, her deep-fried report, which, coincidentally comes just in time for Hanukah (the ultimate tribute to oil), beginning this Sunday, Dec. 21, at sundown. There's something about a deep fryer that turns grown men into boys. Just the thought of throwing food into a pot of sizzling oil takes my husband (and his crew) back to their days of skinned knees, holding a magnifying glass over defenseless insects. Julia's sweet potato fries and onion rings just out of the oil. (Julia Beizer) While visiting a few years ago, one of my husband's fraternity brothers eyed the tiny deep fryer perched over our kitchen cabinets and his face broke into a mischievous grin. "Dude, you guys have a deep fryer? No way!" Off we went to the store, picking up...

 

By Kim ODonnel | December 19, 2008; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (2)

Meatless Monday: 'Tis the Season Snack Treats

Oink oink. That sums up how I typically feel at this time of year, the nonstop feeding frenzy that comes with holiday fete-ing and merriment. As an omnivore, I happily wolf down old-school cocktail classics such as pigs in a blanket, rumaki and the perennial classic roast beast, but there is a price to pay for the meat-intensive feasting, including a rapid expansion of the waistline. So when company drops in over the next few weeks, I’ll be thinking of snacks and apps that decidedly take a pass on meat. Below, a handful of faves from the MA recipe vault. Dips for Chips ... and Other Dip Lifters Olive-fig tapenade: A delightful sweet-savory marriage of two unlikely partners. Popping with flavor, fiber and monosaturated fats. Kale pesto: A gorgeous emerald green sauce for either pasta or for dipping. After a quick boil, the kale purees beautifully and feels silky smooth...

 

By Kim ODonnel | December 15, 2008; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (9)

An Advent Dinner Party

This week and next, I'm on vacation, but I've got a handful of helpful and savvy kitchen elves pitching in to keep the blog engine running. Today's treat comes from Elizabeth Terry, a washingtonpost.com colleague who spends much of her free time in the kitchen. One of my favorite traditions of the holiday season is the annual "Advent Lessons & Carols" service at my church, St. Columba's Episcopal in Washington. Elizabeth's gingerbread. (Elizabeth Terry/washingtonpost.com) Advent, a time of preparation for and anticipation of Christmas, begins four Sundays before the holiday. The Lessons and Carols service, which is as much a concert as a worship service, features a series of Old and New Testament readings that foreshadow Christmas -- that is, the fulfillment of the ancient promise of a Messiah. In between the readings, St. C's very fine adult and children's choirs sing not Christmas carols, but hymns and anthems that...

 

By Kim ODonnel | December 11, 2008; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (6)

Election Snacks All-Nighter

Like you, I will be glued to the television tomorrow night waiting for the results of the wild ride that has been the 2008 presidential campaign. The evening promises to be anything but short. In order to keep up our spirits (and energy) until the last vote is counted, we’ll need plenty of sustenance to survive the pundit gabfest on the boob tube. Think of it as part two of your responsibilities as a dedicated voter; after casting your vote, the evening duty is to hurry up and wait -- and stand by your man – with snacks. Bipartisan fruit: (Clockwise from top left) Blackberries, sweet cherries, blueberries and raspberries. (Kim O'Donnel) To that end, I asked several writers from around the country what they’re whipping up for the election all-nighter. Below, a sampler from their respective buffets, with additional Casa Appetite tidbits: Libations Megan Saynisch, who pens the food...

 

By Kim ODonnel | November 3, 2008; 12:22 PM ET | Comments (8)

Tartlets: For Life's Special Moments

Quick breads, cobblers, cookies -- these are everyday desserts, familiar homey treats that make our lives just a tad sweeter. They’re tried, true and never have to be perfect or pretty. Shucks, you may even know the recipes by heart. Raspberries dot white chocolate/mascarpone-filled pastry shells. (Kim O'Donnel). But when a special occasion calls, as it did over the weekend, an everyday dessert just won’t do. I needed something pretty, festive and decidedly special, the culinary equivalent of a party dress or a pair of patent leather Mary Janes. I had been invited to a baby shower, but this was no ordinary lady-about-to-have-baby shindig. This was for my dear friend Leslie, who for 18 months, waited to become an adoptive parent. In July, her long-awaited wish came true, the call that would make her drop everything and hightail it on the interstate to meet her newborn son, whom we’ve come...

 

By Kim ODonnel | October 7, 2008; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (5)

Veep Debate-Viewing Vittles

Tonight’s the night for the sole vice-presidential debate of the 2008 campaign, which means just one thing in this space: your only chance to make Veep-appropriate snacks. Baked Alaska in progress. (Flickr/Tommy Williams). When Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) and Gov. Sarah Palin (R-Alaska) take the stage at Washington University in St. Louis at 8 p.m. local time, it’s anyone’s guess who will emerge victorious, but as with any good spectator sport, drinkies and nosh are vital components of the experience. Palin supporters have many options in both the food and drink departments. Although it’d be difficult to rustle up the fixins for moose stew (apparently one of the governor’s favorites) on such short notice, wild Alaskan salmon would make an excellent stand-in. Easier still is a platter of smoked salmon, which loves teaming up with crackers, toast points, herbs, cream cheese, even pizza. Here in the Pacific Northwest, salmon jerky...

 

By Kim ODonnel | October 2, 2008; 10:00 AM ET | Comments (16)

Figs and Olives: A Delightful Surprise

A few weeks ago, I went to an after-work picnicky thing to meet some of Mister MA’s new colleagues, and unlike most office-sponsored gatherings, the food was memorable – in a good way. Fig tapenade. (Kim O'Donnel). While Mister MA fetched the drinks, I perused the colorful array of mostly meatless dips and spreads, but the thing that caught my eye was the fig tapenade. A first for me, I was intrigued, imagining how figs and olives would taste and feel in one unified bite. It would take just one little spoonful to hook me, well, forever. Where have you been all my life, olives and figs, baby? What a groovy combination, a yin-yang of sweet and savory, smooth and chunky, mellow and pungent. While licking my fingers, I decided that I must figure out how to recreate this extraordinary flavor sensation and share the figgy love. A few Googlish...

 

By Kim ODonnel | September 30, 2008; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (11)

Debating Over Presidential Debate Snacks

By now you know that both presidential candidates will show up in Oxford, Miss., tonight for the first televised debate of the post-convention season. In my inbox, I’m seeing a flurry of last-minute invitations to watch the debate, but what I want to know is this: what about the snacks? In such a close race, should debate-viewing snacks be color coded like these cocktails? Or should there just be something -- anything hard and crunchy -- to chomp on during what will undoubtedly be a nail biter? Should McCain fans run out to get the fixins for the Arizona senator’s beloved barbecue? And does anyone have a recipe for Palin punch? Should Obama supporters say to heck with the arugula jokes and make some arugula pesto anyway? Or perhaps, in honor of the debate’s location – Oxford, Miss., also the home to the Southern Foodways Alliance -- there should be...

 

By Kim ODonnel | September 26, 2008; 01:41 PM ET | Comments (10)

Mister MA's Birthday Cherry Cobbler

We celebrated Mister MA's big 4-0 this weekend, a backyard surprise at Casa Appetite with close friends and family. For perhaps the first time in my adult life, I delegated in getting this party off the ground, assigning various tasks to a handful of willing trusted souls whose efforts allowed me to actually enjoy myself the evening of the event. The letting go meant doing only a portion of the cooking as well, a huge step for this kamikaze party planner. Cherry cobbler. (Kim O'Donnel) I decided to order all of the salads and meatless items from Lebanese Taverna Market, a consistently reliable catering outfit that has served me well over the years. (No doubt I will miss them when I move to Seattle.) That freed me up to marinate several dozen chicken thigh-leg combos in my fave Vietnamese-style marinade and have fun with the desserts. Without a doubt, I...

 

By Kim ODonnel | June 23, 2008; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (15)

Chat Leftovers: Making a Meze Party

Washington, D.C.: I'm having a Middle Eastern themed cocktail party and I need a few meze suggestions. I'm thinking hummus, pita chips, tabbouleh, couscous. What else do I need? I tried frying falafel last week, but they completely disintegrated. Can I bake falafel? Would I need a different recipe? Homemade Arab flat bread. (Kim O'Donnel) What a fun idea, particularly during the outdoor entertaining season! The idea behind meze is little bites on little plates, which collectively can make up a meal, a perfect equation for a summery informal gathering. I love making meze because the preparation is straightforward and requires relatively few ingredients, which translates into very fresh tasting, honest food. With an emphasis on whole grains and legumes, much of Middle Eastern cuisine offers plenty of choices for your meatless guests, and because it's so flavorful and satisfying, the omnivores won't feel cheated. Hummus is one of the...

 

By Kim ODonnel | June 19, 2008; 08:16 AM ET | Comments (11)

Chat Leftovers: College Kid Cookbooks, Heart-Smart Apps

Bethesda Mom: Do you or any of the clicksters have a recommendation for a good super basic cookbook for college students -- i.e. people cooking on a budget and without fancy equipment? My son will be in his first apartment next year after two years of dorm living (at your old alma mater, Penn), and I don't want him living exclusively on cheesesteaks and deli from Koch's. I have not done a good job in teaching him up to this point and I want to make August "Cooking Boot Camp" for him and his younger brother. (I plan to have younger brother cook dinner at least one night a week next school year). Hey Mom, the first title that springs to mind is "Now You're Cooking" by Elaine Corn. I much prefer the optimistic tone of Corn's cover copy ("Everything a Beginner Needs to Know to Start Cooking Today") than...

 

By Kim ODonnel | May 21, 2008; 09:50 AM ET | Comments (29)

Derby Day Beer Cheese

Louisville, Ky. is the place to be this weekend, when the 134th Kentucky Derby gets underway Saturday night. Having never watched the Derby nor ever stepped foot in "Loooolville," I asked Mister MA, a Kentucky boy, for advice on Derby party vittles. Beer cheese and crackers. (Kim O'Donnel) Anything with bourbon was the short answer, and he coughed up Derby classics such as Benedictine, the cucumber-cream cheese spread, chocolate pecan pie and a Hot Brown, a turkey, bacon and tomato sandwich with a Mornay sauce. I liked the idea of beer cheese, which cookbook writer Marion Flexner notes in her "Out of Kentucky Kitchens," was a bar staple "when free lunches were served in Kentucky saloons with every 5-cent glass of beer." As I waded through a sea of online beer cheese recipes, I noticed several variations on the theme; some recipes called for both cheddar cheese and cream cheese;...

 

By Kim ODonnel | May 2, 2008; 08:23 AM ET | Comments (4)

Chat Leftovers: Easter Feasting

This week's What's Cooking prompted several questions about serving suggestions for Easter supper, which takes place this Sunday, March 23. Whether or not you observe Easter, the ideas below should get you in the spring swing of things. As always, your contributions are vital to the mix. And check out today's Food section for Easter mushroom lasagna and holiday hams. Easter egg radishes, Mother Nature's eye candy. (Kim O'Donnel) Easter dinner: I only do three big meals a year, and I like to make it season-specific (unlike MIL, who makes pumpkin pie for the 4th of July) and I like to try something new. But everything on my menu is traditional (except cabrito for the main dish). Any ideas, especially for sides that would be pseudo-traditional (scalloped potatoes) but with a twist to go along with the cabrito? First off, for those who don't know, cabrito is roasted kid (aka...

 

By Kim ODonnel | March 19, 2008; 10:06 AM ET | Comments (0)

Leap Year Vittles: Is There Such a Thing?

This year, February has 29 days. That means -- you got it -- Leap Year is here! Leap year is a by-product of the Gregorian calendar in its efforts to synchronize with the solar calendar, i.e. the amount of time it takes for the earth to complete its orbit around the sun, which is 365.25 days. After all the mathematical whizbanging, this is why it's necessary to add an an extra day to the Gregorian calendar every four years, except of course during century years (but that's for another blog and algorithm). I don't know anyone born on Feb. 29, but I've always wondered what it feels like to have an off-the-books birthday 75 percent of the time. I've read that the chances of being born on Leap Day is 1 in 1,500, but that's an unconfirmed statistic. If you've got good numbers (or are a member of the Leap...

 

By Kim ODonnel | February 28, 2008; 09:03 AM ET | Comments (0)

Twelve Under-$20 Ways to Snack Well on New Year's Eve

If you're looking for my advice on whether to eat in or dine out on New Year's Eve, aka the strangest night of the year, I'd rather not, if that's okay. There's something to be said for going to your favorite neighborhood joint and letting someone else do the work. Such a convenience, however, comes double-fisted with potentially frustrating challenges of ringing in the new year out on the town -- overcrowded dining rooms, overworked servers, crazy drivers on the roads -- plus a hefty price tag. For me, the key is not whether you curl up at home or venture out into the world -- but that the evening is both simple and cheap. Of course, "cheap" is a relative term, but my point here is to be kind to your exhausted holiday wallet and work within your budget. Wait, there's one more (well, two more) important pieces: Do...

 

By Kim ODonnel | December 28, 2007; 10:54 AM ET | Comments (11)

Going Nuts This Season

Every year at this time, I make a batch of spiced nuts for parties and for unexpected drop-by holiday revelers, and every year, someone asks for the recipe. It never fails. Recently, I did a small catering job, a working lunch for nine, and I added a container of nuts into their order for late afternoon sustenance, as a little extra sumthin'. As it turns out , the nuts were inhaled within minutes, prompting an e-mail request for the recipe. These nuts are THAT good. Spiced nuts. (Kim O'Donnel) While you rave, however, please give credit where it's due, which is Union Square Café in New York, where these nuts have been a daily bar staple for about a zillion years. I've made other spiced nut combos, and nothing has ever worked quite like this one -- not too sweet, not too salty, and infused with with the magical aromatherapeutic...

 

By Kim ODonnel | December 7, 2007; 09:35 AM ET | Comments (17)

Broccoli Dip, Hold the Cheez

Catonsville, Md. I make a spicy broccoli dip recipe my family always requests, but it uses Velveeta cheese. I would rather not use something packed with chemicals, but I'm worried to try the recipe with regular cheddar cheese, which seems too thick. Have you ever found a substitute for Velveeta? Do you have any recommendations for what I might try? Don't be scared, Catonsville; you can make your very own cheese sauce using a combination of Cheddar and Monterey Jack and be done with that yellow box for good. Earlier this year, I tweaked a recipe for queso, the classic melted cheese dip that inevitably makes its way to the Super Bowl party table, and had smooth, delicious results. The key is to start off with a roux -- equal parts fat and flour -- followed by a hearty helping of heavy cream (I didn't say this was low fat),...

 

By Kim ODonnel | October 17, 2007; 09:43 AM ET | Comments (0)

Chat Leftovers: Barley, Date Night Menu and Party Drink Planning

There were too many good questions left hanging in the What's Cooking queue yesterday; below, a few for the road that bear consideration and your feedback, of course: Silver Spring, Md.: What is the difference between pearl barley and whole barley. I bought whole rather than pearl. Will it need more cooking time or more liquid to substitute? Whole barley (aka hulled barley, and on occasion, pot barley) is the more nutritious of the two, with only the outer husk removed, whereas pearl parley is "pearled" - which means steamed, polished and stripped of its bran coating. Thing is, pearl barley cooks much faster; a one-cup portion takes about 35 minutes to cook, about half the time it takes to cook the same amount of hulled barley. In "A New Way to Cook," Sally Schneider recommends that hulled barley, like other chewy whole grains, benefit from being soaked for several...

 

By Kim ODonnel | September 26, 2007; 07:19 AM ET | Comments (0)

Pineapple Twist of Fate

There was a dinner party at Casa Appetite on Saturday night, a combo early birthday celebration and inaugural warming of the new house. We were a group of 12 and yours truly insisted on doing all the cooking, as long as guests would reciprocate with their beverage of choice. With three or four meatless eaters on the guest list, it was a no-brainer to whip up a pot of eggplant curry and some coconut rice to sop up its juices. The omnivores sunk their teeth into Viet-grilled chicken, which continues to impress me with its depth of flavor and ease of preparation. While folks were cocktailing, I was manning the stove, frying up a batch of okra pancakes, which are more like fritters, cornmeal-y in a hush puppy kind of way, and loaded with still-crisp okra studs. A perfect nibble to whet the appetite. The real surprise of the evening...

 

By Kim ODonnel | August 21, 2007; 11:01 AM ET | Comments (0)

Red, White and Blue Cheat Sheet

This year's Fourth of July is a real bugger, falling in the middle of the week. It's a tall order being red, white and blue while whipping up a fabulous outdoor feast without the cushion of a long weekend. We're literally running out of time before the rockets' red glare gets going, so chop-chop. To help, I've compiled a cheat sheet with lots of links to recipes for various components of a classic summertime shindig. Let's go! Got marinade? There's still time to rub it in and lather up dem ribs, roasts and birds. Consider a dry jerk, curried rub or a bath of yogurt-based tandoori seasonings. Homemade burger buns are the bomb diggety. (Kim O'Donnel) No time for marinade? Do the plank instead. A piece of salmon grilled on a untreated wooden plank does most of the seasoning work, imparting the flavor of the wood into the fish. It's...

 

By Kim ODonnel | July 3, 2007; 11:33 AM ET | Comments (0)

The Virtue of Birthday Cake

"Birthdays are milestones in the evolution of an individual or a group," according to the entry in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. Interesting notion. A milestone it is indeed, but a marker of individual evolution -- this is something I'd never considered. Chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. (Kim O'Donnel) I like it: With every birthday, we don't just age, we evolve. This way, the birthday stops being a numbers game and instead a nod to one's state of being. For years, I've come to think of the birthday as a personal New Year's Day, an opportunity to reflect on the previous year and to set intentions for the next one. To mark the occasion, it is fitting to celebrate the sweetness of having lived another year with cake. Like humans, cake has evolved over the ages, and there are references to sweetened bread in ancient Egypt...

 

By Kim ODonnel | May 21, 2007; 11:02 AM ET | Comments (11)

ABCs of Guacamole

Cinco de Mayo has nothing to do with Mexican independence, which falls on Sept. 16; instead, it commemorates Mexico's victory in battle against the French in Puebla, on May 5, 1862, some 42 years after declaring independence from Spain. But it's a good reason to drink and eat cocina Mexicana, and one of the easiest things you can to do to celebrate is make guacamole. A Hass avocado, ready for guac. (Kim O'Donnel) Originally known in the Aztec empire as ahuaca-mulli, which literally means avocado sauce, guacamole goes way back in history because the avocado is an ancient fruit, originating in Mexico somewhere around 5,000 B.C. For the better part of a millennium, the avocado was known as the ahuacatl, which is said to be the word for "testicle," which would explain why the fruit was considered an aphrodisiac. When the Spanish conquistadores got wind of this luscious fruit in...

 

By Kim ODonnel | May 4, 2007; 08:41 AM ET | Comments (9)

D.C.'s Supper Girls

The Supper Girls are a group of 10 young, accomplished women. They all live and work in the Washington area, but hail from a mix of home bases -- from Nigeria to Sonoma, Calif., Nashville to western Maryland. They are single and married, omnivorous and vegetarian and fit somewhere in the 25-40 age demographic. D.C.'s Supper Clubbers taking a break between courses. (Kim O'Donnel) The smorgasbord of backgrounds and personalities is fitting for a group that meets once a month to cook supper together. Since June, 2005, these women, who call themselves The Gourmet Girls, have gathered in each other's homes for a long evening of kitchen prep, recipe exchange, high drama (they all met through a theater group at Georgetown University Law School) and feasting on each other's culinary contributions. No Gourmet Girls feast would be complete without the addition of wine -- and this group has two resident...

 

By Kim ODonnel | April 24, 2007; 11:28 AM ET | Comments (5)

Delicious -- And Vegetarian

It was Friday afternoon, and I was in the mood to play hostess. However, as I e-mailed a small group of close pals for Saturday supper, I realized I was inviting them on short notice. The reason for the rush: I was in the midst of a round of recipe testing, and I needed a bunch of mouths to feed. Of primary concern was a a beer-batter veggie tempura (stay tuned for those details in tomorrow's blog space) that I was tinkering with, yet if I was inviting friends for the evening, I needed to expand the menu -- and perhaps solicit culinary contributions. In addition to battered veggies, I was thinking about simmering a pot of heirloom beans (more on those in Thursday's blog space!), and since one couple was strictly vegetarian, I thought, what the heck, let's keep this dish free of meat, too. The menu was going...

 

By Kim ODonnel | April 10, 2007; 10:23 AM ET | Comments (9)

Fresh Ham, Hold the 7-Up

"I don't like those baked hams," barked a colleague, who's known for his rambling, unsolicited opinions about everything. "They taste too much like flesh." I don't know if I'd go that far, but my favorite curmudgeon's argument is well taken: the texture and mouthfeel of cured, cooked hams is less a sure thing and more a crapshoot. There are lots of variables at play -- processing, how the pig was raised, the at-home glaze and extra flavor add-ons and the way it's sliced. Too thick, ham slabs do have a science fiction quality to them, no matter how good that glaze tastes. My brothers John (left) and Tim (right) bookending me for our annual Easter outfit pose-a-rama. (Family photo) (Speaking of intriguing ham glazes, check out the goodie in this week's Food section, zipped up with ginger, mango and chiles.) When I get in the mood to do a ham,...

 

By Kim ODonnel | April 6, 2007; 12:08 PM ET | Comments (6)

Glam Lamb

I was an adult before I had my first bite of lamb. I had no idea what I had been missing. When exactly lamb entered my life is a blur, but I remember it was a lamb chop -- tender, petite and rich on the tongue. For years, I played it safe, nibbling only on chops over and again, while ignoring the tasting possibilities from the leg, the shank and the shoulder. Leg of lamb, stuffed with tapenade. (Kim O'Donnel) For years, the idea of cooking lamb was way off my radar, and then cooking school hit me over the head and sent me down some kind of yellow brick road full of adventure, just like Dorothy. I did have a bit of Scarecrow in me, but on my way to see the Wizard, I learned how to braise lamb shanks and grill chops and serve them with a redolent...

 

By Kim ODonnel | March 28, 2007; 11:19 AM ET | Comments (0)

Hostess 911

In this week's edition of What's Cooking, a reader from Lima, Ohio wanted some help with the following dilemma: I find I am hostessing parties that feature "buffet spreads" about six times a year. These are casual parties ... book clubs, Bunco groups, football games. However, while they are casual, I feel my serving ware isn't making the grade. I use a lot of mismatched platters, serving dishes, etc. While I don't care for "matchy matchy" items, I do like an overall feel of cohesiveness. I like pottery mixed with stoneware mixed with different tiered racks for height, etc. I'm ready to start upgrading. While I don't think these parties warrant silver and chaffing dishes, I do feel they need a classier feel. How would you suggest I start my collection? Do I start with a color scheme? A variety of shapes/sizes? If you advise that I just "buy what...

 

By Kim ODonnel | February 7, 2007; 10:40 AM ET | Comments (24)

Hold-The-Velveeta Queso

For the last few weeks, a What's Cooking reader has been in deep pursuit of a queso dip to make for Super Bowl Sunday. But not any queso - one made without the infamous Velveeta, the Halloween-orange block of the infamous "cheese food" that melts like a dream. In spite of my trepidation (it was a maiden queso voyage for this cook), I took on the challenge. After much deliberation over what to use as my base (milk, evaporated milk, cream), I decided on the very reliable, full-fat cream, and I have to say, I think I scored a touchdown. The common complaint I hear about queso recipes is that the end result is stringy and clumpy and difficult to reheat. With a roux (equal parts flour and fat) as my starter, this cream-based cheese sauce stays fluid and clump-free. Have a look and see what you think. While in...

 

By Kim ODonnel | February 1, 2007; 10:51 AM ET | Comments (0)

Here Comes the Bride's Menu

Some of you may know that I'm a bride-to-be, in nitty-gritty countdown mode. Five weeks from tomorrow, this previously engaged girl is finally gettin' hitched, and she's officially a nervous bride. The nuptials will take place far away from the nation's capital, on Vieques, a small island just off the east coast of Puerto Rico. Green Beach, Vieques. (Kim O'Donnel) Mister Groom and I, we fell in love with the low-key vibe and natural beauty of the place during a vacation last year, plus we wanted a warm, beach destination for vow exchange rather than urban pavement. Nearly everyone I talked to assumed that the reception menu would be my biggest priority. The tricky thing about a destination wedding is the distance; with 1,500 miles between me and the island, the opportunities for sampling caterer menus went out the airplane window. Our original catering choice was the chef/owner of a...

 

By Kim ODonnel | January 25, 2007; 11:59 AM ET | Comments (42)

A Toast to Toast

New Year's Eve is Sunday night. Perhaps you're like me and still have no idea how you'll ring in 2007. Unlike years past, I'm going to pass on hosting a dinner party and cooking a bunch of food, as I'm too tired, still full from Christmas and a perhaps a wee bit cash poor. Fancy toast made from your everyday larder. (Kim O'Donnel) If you're feeling my vibe, join me on the toast trail. Yeah, that's right, I'm thinking of toasting the new year with toast. Before you dismiss my proposal as no better than a bowl of Chex Mix, hear me out. Toast need not be breakfasty slabs of bread from the toaster, spread with butter and jam. It can get all spiffed up for nighttime revelry, taking on the flavors and nuances of elegant party fare. All it takes is a little creativity and some rummaging through your...

 

By Kim ODonnel | December 29, 2006; 10:50 AM ET | Comments (0)

A Curry Sweet Goodbye

As soon as I filed yesterday's post on hosting a Monday night dinner party, I donned a bandanna, buttoned up one of my old scruffy chef's coats and spun into action. Chilled vanilla custard went into the freezer bowl of my ice cream maker and churned for about 30 minutes. During the last 10 minutes of churning, I added about 3 ounces of chopped dark chocolate for an extra dimension and a contrast in texture. As I mentioned yesterday, I cooked the soaked dried chickpeas in an infused "tea" of fresh ginger, garlic and a star anise pod, which worked beautifully. Just as I had hoped, the chickpeas picked up the flavors of the aromatics and were off to a savory start. So much flavor already and not a drop of salt used yet! "Dry" chickpeas make their debut over rice. (Kim O'Donnel) For the next step, I pulled together...

 

By Kim ODonnel | October 17, 2006; 11:20 AM ET | Comments (0)

Monday Night Dinner Party

Monday night is usually reserved for getting caught up on reading, attempting the Sunday crossword or simply taking a deep breath from weekend activities. (Oh right; there's televised football, too.) But tonight, I'm breaking all of my rules and hosting a dinner party. There will be eight this evening at casa Kim and already the preparations have begun. Dinner is a mostly Indian affair, at the request of the guests of honor, who also happen to be from Bangalore and Bombay. My friends for several years, they are about to leave the D.C. area and relocate to New Zealand at the end of the month. Tonight's feast is my send-off, my farewell to Ravi and his wife, Sangeeta. After reading about my favorite cilantro-based chicken curry from Madhur Jaffrey, Ravi asked if we could dine on curry for our last supper. How could I refuse?...

 

By Kim ODonnel | October 16, 2006; 11:45 AM ET | Comments (8)

The Zuke-A-Mole Trick

Zucchini's in the house! Get ready, because once it starts, summer squash doesn't stop producing. As one of the most prolific items in the garden, it requires cooking ideas that go beyond the same ole zucchini bread and ratatouille. The zucchini, aka courgette, has arrived at local farm markets. (Kim O'Donnel) Last summer, I came across this zinger, a unique dip that remarkably resembles guacamole. It's so similar in look and mouthfeel that you could almost fool people. Don't get me wrong; I love guacamole, but like it or not, the avocado is high in fat - about 25 grams each. Of course, if you're a vegan, this is a great way to get plant-based fatty acids, but the tendency among we fat-loving Americans is to add fat to the fat. In the case of the guac, we like to add sour cream, cheese, even the dreaded mayo, and then...

 

By Kim ODonnel | July 7, 2006; 11:34 AM ET | Comments (6)

Fourth of July Checklist

With the anticipation of fireworks, parades and red-white-and-blue jello desserts, we can get sidetracked while planning a holiday cookout, fiesta, barbecue -- whatever you may call it. Details are tough when pulling off a celebration of the outdoor variety, to boot. Below is a list of 10 things to remember amid all the hubbub. And please, share your tips in the comments area below. 1. It's hot out there. The forecast is calling for temperatures in the mid 90s. That means the "keep-cold-food-cold and hot-things-hot" rule is of particular importance. The last thing you want to interrupt your fireworks show is a visit to the emergency room for food poisoning. Simply put, if you're at home, keep meat in the fridge until ready to use and keep prepared food indoors (preferably with the A/C on), even when it's time to serve up. Arrange your spread buffet-style on the kitchen table...

 

By Kim ODonnel | July 3, 2006; 10:45 AM ET | Comments (4)

Party Plates With a Conscience

Ever think about how much waste we create over food and drink every time we organize a summer cookout, picnic or other outdoor gathering? I hate to be an environmental downer, but it's time we get hip to all the debris we leave behind after our fun-loving feasts. Two companies have taken on the challenge, offering a new take on disposable plates and cutlery that work in tandem with the environment rather landfills....

 

By Kim ODonnel | June 1, 2006; 11:45 AM ET | Comments (5)

Crumbs From Memorial Day Weekend

Well, I was wrong - in spite of my predictions on Friday, there was nary a drop of rain the whole weekend. My wrong made everything right in the al fresco dining department - such magical weather for all the outdoor feasting one could ever hope for! Here are some of the highlights from my long weekend: Sunday night it was an impromptu get-together with friends at their place, where we dipped simply grilled shrimp into a green sauce that took me all of five minutes to make in a food processor. Here's what you need: 1 bunch cilantro, 1 small handful of fresh mint leaves, 2 cloves peeled, smashed garlic, 1 plum tomato (or 12 grape tomatoes), ½ chile pepper, seeded and deveined, 1 2-inch hunk of peeled fresh ginger. Throw it all in the food processor and whiz until completely pureed. I like to add a squeeze of...

 

By Kim ODonnel | May 30, 2006; 09:41 AM ET | Comments (2)

 

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